Earlier this year, Public Enemy’s classic 1990 album, Fear of a Black Planet, celebrated its 25th anniversary. Almost 25 years to the day after Chuck D’s piercing shouts bookended Radio Raheem getting choked out by the police in front of onlookers in Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing, Eric Garner suffered the same fate. Since then, the police have killed Michael Brown, John Crawford III, Ezell Ford, Tamir Rice, Rekia Boyd, Walter Scott, Freddie Gray, and many, many more unarmed black men and women. Public Enemy’s message is more relevant now than ever.
Almost on cue, the group is back from a three-year hiatus with its 13th studio album, Man Plans God Laughs, a timely release that repackages classic Public Enemy motifs for a renewed struggle. The group seems revitalized by the current movement and, as a longstanding, outspoken voice for civil rights, anxiously seeks to lend its support in the ongoing fight for black lives—there’s even a passing mention of the #BlackLivesMatter campaign. Chuck D is refocused and often sharp, using his strained, but still booming chants to rally allies. When he shouts, “So, it’s cool to be black until it’s time to be black,” on “Mine Again”, a song about African pride, it’s as much a call-to-action for African-Americans as it is reprimand of cultural appropriators. The two major points of emphasis remain mobilizing the black base and challenging anti-black tyranny.
Man Plans God Laughs is entirely produced by longtime Bomb Squad member G-Wiz – who also produced the majority of How You Sell Soul – and some of his beats slap, particularly “Praise the Loud”, which is augmented by DJ Lord scratches. Where previous PE releases this century have often sounded dated, this one often sounds forcibly modern, even for its faults, though, this record doesn’t lack the distinct, aggressively pro-Black energy that originally made Public Enemy a voice for the oppressed masses. That’s what has always been the most important thing at the music’s core. The message is still there,